Review: ‘Tender is the Night’ by F Scott Fitzgerald

I have something to admit…I love Pinterest. And, what’s more, I love finding beautiful quotes on Pinterest. Yes, I am one of those terrible people who has a whole page dedicated to glorious snatches of literary genius ( I try to justify my terrible twenty-first century whim by only pinning ‘impressive’ quotes from impressive people). Why admit this to you all? Well, I’m afraid it is this ‘Pinterest interest’ (ouch) that led me to my latest read.

At university, ‘The Great Gatsby’ was utterly destroyed for me by a module that applied every literary theory to the same book – never again can I read the section describing the orange machine. I shelved Fitzgerald as a reader, only embracing the novel again when Leo made his glorious moment as the eponymous character in Luhrmann’s film adaptation.

However, one day I was perusing my pinned quotations, known as ‘Wise Words’ on my page (I cringe as I type) and noticed that many of my Fitzgerald quotations were from his 1934 novel ‘Tender is the Night’ – a novel sat on my bookshelf but never opened as a result of first year horrors. So, I decided to take the plunge and threw myself into the world of Fitzgerald once again, with the hope that a novel with such glorious excerpts must be of merit.

How I wish I could write a happy ending to this tale…

The novel lost me from its uncomfortable and problematic premise where the protagonist Dick Diver totally abuses his position by marrying his schizophrenic  patient Nicole. It’s apparently acceptable because she’s pretty and vulnerable, taking the trope of damsel in distress to a truly disgusting extreme. It takes Diver a whole page and a half of musing that perhaps this isn’t appropriate before deciding to ignore morals and sensibility and doing it anyway.

Fitzgerald shows his only moment of sensitivity in then skipping the horrendousness that would be their wedding to the point, five years later, where their marriage, now joined by two young children, is beginning to crumble (shock horror I hear you say).

What then occurs is the reader being treated to the bizarre world of the affluent traveller of the 1930s, moving around Europe in an attempt for the Divers to avoid their problems and, in particular, Nicole’s struggle with her mental health. Each port of call involves Dick’s steady descent into alcoholism and shockingly obvious obsession with young actress Rosemary, whom he eventually beds. This decision, unlike the shocker at the start, takes Dick much more soul searching on his own ethics before, yet again, abandoning whatever moral compass he may once had bestowed on him (by the American Medical Council?!)

There is also a completely bizarre scenario involving disposing of a dead body found in Rosemary’s room in the same style that someone might throw out rubbish – Fitzgerald seems to have is focus completely skewed on what makes an exciting plot.

The only glory comes from when Nicole finally grows some proverbials and decides to bed an admirer, putting the final nail in to the coffin of the Diver marriage , to the relief of any reader.

‘Tender is the Night’ is a semi-autobiographical novel as Fitzgerald’s wife suffered with mental health. However, if sympathy for the male within such a marriage was his intention, he is so far off the mark he’s shooting in a different field with Diver. Never has the name ‘Dick’ been more appropriate for a man who casually abandons his vulnerable wife and disaffected children in the pursuit of brandy and girls young enough to be his daughters.

In a nutshell, after reading this novel I have removed it from my bookshelf and every ‘pinnable’ quote from my ‘Wise Words’ board – now not being able to separate them from the horror that is this novel.

K ~

Review: ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’ by Karen Joy Fowler

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As is the nature of a prolific bookworm, you reach the stage where, while you enjoy the plots of books, they cease to surprise you. That is why reading ‘We are Completely Beside Ourselves’ by Fowler is such a joy. It has been a number of years since I have had to incredulously scan back to work out how I could have possibly missed such a twist in a tale.

Being the daughter of two psychologists herself, Fowler is masterful in her depiction of the young life of Rosemary and her two siblings – both of which disappear from her life. The book follows Rosemary at various points in her childhood through adolescence, trying to piece together the mystery of their disappearance and her own identity in light of it all.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2014, the first person narrative takes on an informative tone throughout – often Fowler having her protagonist aware that she is speaking to the reader about her life. This is gradually subverted as we discover how unreliable Rosemary actually is; her story flitting back and forth, revealing more and more of her bizarre upbringing surrounded by researchers.
Fowler dodges the pitfall of cliché that often arrives with a coming of age narrative by steering clear of a romantic solution to Rosemary’s idiosyncrasies which is entirely refreshing.
In fact, the novel itself feels like a breath of fresh air, offering up a genuinely original narrative for the prolific reader who has become complacent in their assumptions of plot.

K ~